The Start of The Decade- Vince Tiu
We’re now a month into 2020, and so much has happened – mostly for the worse – through a combination of governments, nature, and plain bad luck. While we pray February won’t be worse, let’s go over our January miseries and why they happened.
The new year started off with a bang! Literally, as on January 3, General Qasem Solemani was killed when a drone shot a missile at him just after landing in Baghdad International Airport. This was because Iran and the US were experiencing increasing tensions between each other as both states have been gaining an increasing amount of influence over the Middle East. Iranian-backed militias, such as Hezbollah, have caused numerous superficial rocket attacks on US bases. On December 27, a US contractor was killed in a base, prompting Trump to authorize strikes on Hezbollah, leaving around 25 dead. This led to the storming of the US embassy in Iran and ultimately, the US strike on Solemani as a means to display force.
General Solemani was the leader of the Iranian Quds force, a division of the government responsible for clandestine military operations, and considered by many to be the second-most powerful person in Iran. He helped kill lots of people through his directed campaigns against the Taliban in Afghanistan, U.S. forces in Iraq, Rebel forces in Syria and the Islamic State in Iraq. Through numerous militias created by his Quds force, he saturated the Middle East with Iranian influence. His death, therefore, removed a powerful figure from the Middle East and a great American threat.
However, Iran wouldn’t just take a hit and call it a day. It fired several missiles at US bases in response, stressing that actions against Iran cannot be unilateral and – let’s face it – you can’t just throw a rocket at someone and expect the world to continue on as normal. Especially if your name is Donald J. Trump.
Next, another bang. This time originating from Taal Volcano, 60 kilometers south of Metro Manila. On January 12, Taal ejected ash up to 14 kilometers into the air and on the 13th, lava was also seen to be flowing out of the volcano. Even a day after, images from the area still showed an ash and steam-filled sky, and since then, Manila has been on edge for a second eruption. This marked the first activity of one of the country’s most active volcanoes since 1977.
PHIVOLCS, the government agency concerning volcanology and seismology, urged a total evacuation of everyone residing within a 17-kilometer radius around the volcano. To this day, it is still not safe to return in many areas as they have become literal ashfields and require extensive cleanup to become habitable again. Taal is still currently on Alert Level 3, which means magma is still near or at the surface and activity could lead to another hazardous eruption. As of January 13, over 25,000 people have evacuated to temporary centers set up by the government.
However, the biggest danger is the ash: it is heavier than snow, and excessive amounts piled up on roofs can cause them to collapse. Ash also contains microscopic shards of hazardous glass which can contaminate air and water within 100 kilometers from the volcano. As a result, masks have become increasingly scarce around Manila, and it would be the perfect nightmare for another respiratory danger to present itself.
Just when we thought our supply of masks couldn’t get any lower, the coronavirus struck. To be specific, the 2019-novel Coronavirus (nCoV), as ‘coronavirus’ is a general term for a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to SARS and MERS-CoV. These viruses are zoonotic, which means that they transfer from animals to humans. In the case of nCoV, it is speculated that this virus transferred from bats to humans in a market in Wuhan, China.
The virus has quickly spread, and has currently infected over 28 thousand people with over 500 deaths in China and 1 in our very beloved Philippines, the first documented death outside of China. The World Health Organization (WHO) deems the virus’ risk in China to be “very high”, while its risk remains “high” on a global level. The virus has caused massive economic and social consequences, forcing the closure of trade borders and restricting travel and tourism in the region. Several companies have stated this virus will have a major economic impact on their first-quarter sales and may even lead to the closure of factories and loss of jobs.
Research is currently underway to find a cure to prevent the spread of the virus, and while there have been reports of patients being cured through antiviral drugs and conventional virus treatments, there is still no official treatment and deaths continue to mount. This fear has spread around the world and created racial discrimination and xenophobia against Chinese people. What a great time to be Asian!
Let’s move on to some less devastating issues. I’ve always thought of celebrity news as second-rate to real-world news, but the two issues below deem themselves important enough to reflect upon, as they touched millions around the globe.
In a surprising move, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced that they would be stepping down as royals and, instead, work to become financially independent and raise their son. Consequently, they will lose their royal titles, and they will be required to cover the taxpayer funds used to renovate their old home in the UK. They will also no longer be receiving money from the Royal Palace, and they will no longer be required to perform royal duties.
This exit has sparked a change in Buckingham Palace and the idea of modern royalty. The shakeup has certainly strained the relationship between the couple and Prince William and Kate Middleton, who now have to perform extra duties and handle extra pressure from being the only remaining heirs to the throne. It has also challenged the value of royalty: if a prince is willing to give up the throne, which he considers unattainable, what does this mean for the future of kings and queens? We are left to wonder.
On January 26, a helicopter crashed into a mountain in Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, killing basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, along with 7 other people. The group was flying to Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy for a basketball game. Callers described the crash site as a hill engulfed in fire, and many in the area heard the crash. An investigation into the cause of the crash determined it was not due to engine failure, and was most likely due to the extremely cloudy weather at that time.
Kobe Bryant was an extremely respected basketballer who inspired millions around the world to pick up the sport. His fans left more than 1,300 basketballs at a makeshift memorial outside his former team’s stadium in addition to large amounts of other merchandise and memorabilia. The National Basketball Association – the league he played for – also plans to commemorate him and Gianna at their annual All-Star Weekend, with one All-Star team wearing his #24 jersey while the other is wearing Gianna’s #2.
To cap things off, the United Kingdom ceased its membership in the European Union on the 31st of January. This was due to a public vote in 2016 where 52% of the population opted for the British Exit, or Brexit. This ended the UK’s 47-year tenure in the union, and it is also the first time a member state opted to leave the Union.
While the UK has agreed to leave the Union, there is still a large amount of negotiation to follow regarding the future relationship of the two parties. Negotiations are due to end by the 31st of December this year, making for an extremely tight schedule for politicians on both sides to come to an agreement. The most important part of this process is the development of a free trade agreement. Without one, imported and exported goods between EU member states and theUK will be charged tariffs, reducing profits for businesses on both sides. The two parties also have to agree on numerous other aspects, such as law enforcement, aviation standards, fishing areas, utility supplies, and medical licensing.
While some see Brexit in a positive light, it is certainly set to disrupt the economic, social and political situation in Europe. On one hand, the EU loses a vital component and a valuable member. On the other hand, the UK loses benefits it previously had with its membership, and individuals, businesses, and the government will have to find their way through the political mess. It’s safe to say that Brexit will have a lasting impact for the decade ahead.
Man. What a month.
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